Bone Tomahawk review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
A movie such as Bone Tomahawk could have easily gone off the rails so quickly. It’s a western picture that descends into horror territory as a town is assaulted by a tribe of cave-dwelling troglodytes. Covered in white and speaking to each other in bone-chilling screams, they hunt people of the town and brutally chop them up for food. It has torture porn written all over it and nearly becomes just that by the end of the picture. Thankfully, there’s more western than horror in this mashing of genres.
We get to know a handful of color western characters portrayed by a stellar cast. Kurt Russell is perfectly cast as the grizzled town sheriff Franklin Hunt, tough and wise when it comes to handling criminals and keeping others alive. Between this role and his command in The Hateful Eight, he was born to be a western star. To save those that were taken by the troglodytes and avenge those that were brutally slaughtered by them, Hunt gathers together a team for the rescue mission that includes the bitter John Brooder (Matthew Fox) and the well-meaning old doctor Chicory (Richard Jenkins). Patrick Wilson is another welcome presence as the plucky and driven foreman. Despite having a broken leg, he hops along with crutches to save his wife from the savages that captured her.
The majority of the plot is mostly the journey of these four men heading towards the cave of troglodytes. They share stories, start feuds, take precautions for camping on the open plains and make tough choices when strangers approach. The moments of comedy, action and danger feel very fluid as the quest progresses. If you cut out the bookends of this movie, it’s a very straight western in the tradition of The Searchers. In fact, compared to many modern westerns, this section of the movie appears more classic in its writing and production. There are moments where you’re more engrossed in the tension of encountering thieves in the night than whether the four will save the captured townspeople in time.
But the moments of horrors involving the troglodytes are just as satisfying in their brutality. They bludgeon their targets with bone-made instruments and signal each other with their whistle-like screams. The spacing out of these scenes keep the movie surprising in its gore rather than be frenetic violence fest. Not a single scene with the troglodytes is left bloodless. There’s one scene in particular that goes for the ultimate of gross-out gore in which a man in scalped and sliced down the middle - a sight that shares more in common with The Green Inferno than A Fistful of Dollars. Surprisingly, the mix of western charm and graphic horror meshes well with wit and grit. It always appears to be level, never favoring one genre over the other. Such a natural grace is not something I usually expect from a concept aiming at cult-movie status.
Bone Tomahawk is a chocolate-in-peanut-butter situation where western and horror blend so very well. Call it a western soaked in bloody horror or a horror dressed up in western garb. Either way you look at it, Bone Tomahawk never bores with a committed cast and tense direction - a strange new twist with a familiar coat.